Like a ghost from my misbegotten past, Nick Zano descended from the sky, smirking all the while, to convict me of my sins. “Hey, Todd,” he said. “I’m Nick Zano. You may remember me from such TV guest arcs as playing Max’s short-lived bartender love interest on 2 Broke Girls, from back when you thought that show might be good.”
“Oh nooooo,” I said.
I felt almost rude to admit it to him, but I hadn’t recognized him at first. At first, I had thought he was Eric Dane, having a good time by coasting his way through a role as a hot guy on an episode of Mom that seemed, more than anything, to be about Christy falling back into bed with a random stranger because he was a fireman but also someone with a philosophy doctorate. But after a moment or so, it became clear there was no way this gleefully grinning hot guy could be Dr. McSteamy. No way, no how. That, then, made my wife think perhaps he was that one guy from Shameless—you know, Steve Howey, who plays Kev, to whom Zano bears a passing resemblance—but we were watching on a Slingbox and, thus, unable to perceive Zano in all his majesty. In the credits, though, up popped his name, as if carved with lightning into two stone tablets, one reading NICK, the other ZANO. I was reminded of all of the times I had held on to optimism in the face of increasing evidence to head for the hills, all of the times I had steered the public wrong, which I wore on my heart as a black mark.
“You didn’t recognize me at first, did you?” said Nick Zano, a twinkle in his eye. “I can have that effect on people. They frequently mistake me for Steve Howey of TV’s Shameless.”
I shook my head, lying. “It’s good to see you again, Nick.”
“It’s good to see you! You always had some nice things to say about 2 Broke Girls.” I felt a peculiar sinking sensation in my gut, as if we’d gotten to the part of Judgment Day when God starts reeling through all of the worst things you’ve done in your life, which I have always imagined as a top 10 countdown.
What I also didn’t want to tell him was that this episode made me think of 2 Broke Girls—and not in the way where I thought, “Oh, hey, Mom is really overcoming all of its own worst impulses, unlike 2 Broke Girls.” Don’t get me wrong, Nick Zano. “Nietzsche And A Beer Run” had some good things in it, and it certainly didn’t sink as low as 2 Broke Girls has at its worst. Indeed, I think its central storyline—Christy falls for a guy who seriously tempts her to head back to the days when she wasn’t so sober—was both inevitable for the show and something that it needed to do. In some ways, this is actually more important to the show’s central arc than Christy finding her dad was, and those episodes were highlights for the series to date.
“But there were so many sex jokes, huh?” Nick Zano said. (I thought I had simply forgotten Nick Zano had psychic powers, until I realized that all of my thoughts were being narrated in alternating shifts by Daniel Stern and Zack Braff.) I had to nod. “I get it,” Nick Zano said. “Like so many TV critics, you’re made a little squeamish by dirty jokes. It’s all right with me, though. I don’t mind having my dick compared to a horseshoes pole.” Then Nick Zano did a little dance I found strangely mesmerizing.
“It’s not… squeamish, exactly,” I said, hoping against hope he hadn’t read that one Game Of Thrones review about all of the nudity. “It’s that the jokes are so lazy. There have been so many sex jokes in the history of mankind that it’s not exactly a humor area that’s particularly fertile.”
“Oooh! You said fertile!” said Nick Zano, referring to the time of month when women are able to become pregnant and not in a particularly amusing way.
“It’s not that, Nick Zano. It’s that the lazy jokes remind me of your previous show…”
“My stint as Penny’s fiancée Pete on Happy Endings?”
“No, I forgot that was you.”
“My run as Preston Hillingsbrook on 90210?”
“Come on, Nick Zano. You know nobody saw that.”
He looked very sad for a moment, Nick Zano did, and then he said, “Then I suppose you mean 2 Broke Girls.”
“I do,” I said, and my thoughts turned to that show’s lazy, smutty gags, the way that it attempted to lessen its weird racial caricatures by turning, instead, to lots and lots and lots of jokes about sex, where the supposed joke was just that somebody would allude to sex or vaginas or breasts, then not really do anything else and expect the audience to laugh because it was so scandalized. I didn’t want that to happen to Mom, because I’d grown to really enjoy the show, to take its side when people tried to slag it off as just another generic CBS sitcom to expect nothing from, like, say, 2 Broke Girls. But I also didn’t want it to happen for far more selfish reasons, for fears that I would be exposed as a fraud once again, unable to prognosticate quality accurately when it came to multi-camera sitcoms, my greatest of blind spots when it came to seeing flaws obvious to everyone else.
Nick Zano had been lost in thought this whole time, too, but his thoughts, unnarrated as they were, had been opaque to me, until he spoke. “It’s not as if this episode abandoned Mom’s central ethos. You have to give it that.”
“No,” I said. “I suppose not. I just saw the restaurant used heavily in the teaser and then you carrying Christy around like a damsel in distress and then heard a bunch of sex jokes, and… and I got scared.”
“We all get scared sometimes,” said Nick Zano, and he smiled comfortingly. “But this was still, ultimately, an episode about Christy struggling to make her life better, despite all the temptations life throws in her way. And isn’t that what you like about the show?”
“Yes,” I allowed. “And the scene where she and Bonnie had a meeting just for themselves… that was really nice.”
“Of course it was. Anna Faris and Allison Janney can do just about anything and make it play at this point. But also think about how the show was willing to make me more than just beefcake and instead a real character, who got to be weird and tell philosophy jokes and take hits from a bong, which may or may not be a first for the 9 p.m. hour on primetime TV. Now isn’t that unlike 2 Broke Girls?”
Nick Zano was right. I had let myself be blinded by my own prejudices. The episode hadn’t been at the level of the previous two, but it also wasn’t so far below it as to deserve the excoriation I had been prepared to deliver before Nick Zano came into my life. Behold! Nick Zano stood at the door of critical integrity and knocked. I was ready to welcome him in.
“it was pretty good,” I said. “It wasn’t the best. I could have done without the scene where Christy and Bonnie talked over Mary at the AA meeting, and it definitely lacked in the humor department. But the moments of struggle were there, and I liked how it ended on an honest-to-God cliffhanger.”
“I did, too,” said Nick Zano. “Because that means I might be back once the show comes back from the Olympics!”
“I hope you’re back then, too, Nick Zano.” I smiled shyly.
“And, anyway, you can’t be too mad at me about 2 Broke Girls, right?”
“I’m not going to suddenly start forgiving that show for…”
“I don’t mean quality-wise. Like what you like, man. That’s the Nick Zano way.”
“Then what do you mean?”
“Oh 2 Broke Girls? You know how I’m dating Kat Dennings? Yeah. That’s where I met her.” He smiled, and I tried to smile, but in my heart was only emptiness. And what was that emptiness? Was it, as I had so often felt, an overwhelming bleakness at the thought of Kat Dennings giving at least four years of her life and likely more to that shit show? Or was it the more present, more aching presence, the knowledge that came only in soft breezes blowing late at night and the sound of waves upon the shore, the thought I would now always have that Nick Zano, close as he may be to mine heart, would never be mine?
“It’s definitely the latter,” said Nick Zano, and he ascended into the clouds.